Oakland Athletics’ Khris Davis swings for a two run single off Texas Rangers’ Mike Minor in the fourth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Texas Rangers 4-12-0
Oakland Athletics 6- 6- 0
By Lewis Rubman
OAKLAND–Mike Fiers seems to find himself in the most unusual circumstances.
Last May 7, at 6:50 in the evening, just fifteen minutes before he was scheduled to start against the Cincinnati Reds, the lights in the outfield at the Coliseum hadn’t fully turned on . Fiers’ first pitch was delayed, postponed, repeatedly put off, until, finally, at 8:45, the lights functioned well enough to allow the game to start. Most pitchers would have had trouble adjusting to a disruption of this magnitude to their pregame routine. Fiers went on to toss a no hitter against the Reds.
Two and a half weeks earlier, the A’s right hander, then the ace of the Athletics’ rotation, had found himself in another unaccustomed place. He was Oakland’s starting pitcher that night in the MLB’s season’s opener, played in the Tokyo Dome. His performance on that occasion was, however, lackluster, as it would continue to be until he took his 2-3, 6.81 record to the mound against Cincinnati and turned his season around
This past off-season found Fiers at the center of what seemed at the time to be baseball’s dominant controversy. It was he who blew the whistle on the Astros’ high tech garbage can sign stealing scandal.
We’ll be sure to hear more about that when Houston comes to town for a three game series starting tomorrow. So, in spite of the unsettling nature of all activities in this season of COVID-19 and the veteran hurler’s unimpressive record of 0-0, 5.40-not unlike the one he brought to his masterpiece against Cincinnati, it seemed likely that this afternoon’s contest between the division leading Athletics and the struggling Rangers would be just another day at the office for the veteran right hander.
Indeed, the A’s starter went about his business efficiently for the first four innings, although he began to wobble in the fifth frame. Nick Solak led off with a single to left, only the second hit of the game for Texas.
Before throwing his first pitcher to the next batter, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Fiers attempted to pick Solak off at first. Umpire Rob Drake ruled him safe, but the A’s requested, and got, a review. It took only a minute and 38 seconds for the umpire crew in New York to reverse Drake’s call.
That provided Fiers a respite, but all respites are brief and this was no exception. Fiers threw an 83 mph slider to Kiner-Falefa, and Kiner-Falefa hit a sinking line drive that Ramón dove for in center field in an unsuccessful attempt to make a circus catch. When the dust had settled, there was Kiner-Falefa a-hugging third. Andeerson Tejada promptly singled him home for the first Texas tally.
While Fiers was mowing down the Rangers line up, his teammates were making hay in the sunshine of the Coliseum, his opposite number for Texas, Mike Minor,was having major problems.
The Rangers’ southpaw, making his third start of the season after a decent outing against Colorado in Arlington and an unsuccessful one against the Giants in San Francisco, brought a 0-2, 5.91 mark and did not improve upon it. His troubles began in the second inning, when Matt Olson slammed his fourth home run of the season, his second in as many days, this one a blast that flew over the Eva Air advertisement in right field.
Minor held his own for a while, but Laureano led off the home fourth with a single to right and advanced to second on Matt Chapman’s wa;l . Mark Canha’s safety to center scored Laureano and moved Chappy up a base. After Minor got Olson on a fly to left, he walked Chad Pinder to load the bases.
The resurgent Khris Davis unloaded them with a two run single to left. which brought Pinder to third. Stephen Piscotty’s sacrifice fly to center drove in Pinder, and Oakland was up by five before Texas scored its first run when Fiers began to unravel in the fifth.
That unravelling began slowly and unsteadily, but it progressed surely. In the sixth, Todd Frzier narrowed the gap between the team to 5-2 with a 429 foot round tripper over an 86 mph sinker from Fiers.
After he surrendered a single to Kiner-Falefa and a two run and two run, 391 foot homer to on a change up to Anderson Tejada, making his major league debut, Fiers waa through for the day.He left the game leading 5-4 after posting a line of four runs, all earned, on seven hits, two of which went the distance, and two walks. He struck out two in his six plus innings of work. Of his 80 pitches, 49 were, by MLB’s statistical definition, strikes. T.J. McFarland, last night’s winning pitcher in relief, closed out the inning, although he allowed a double to left by Shin-Soo Choo.
Minor had left the game after recovering enough to retire the A;s 1-2-3 in the fifth, a feat his successor, Jimmy Herget, accomplished in the sixth. But the A’s put additional distance between themselves and pursuing Rangers in the bottom half of the seventh episode.
Joely Rodríguez took over for Herget to open the frame. Davis greeted him with an infield single. Piscotty sacrificed (yes, you read that right) him over to second, and he scored on Sean Murphy’s single to left center. Oakland now led 6-4.
The Rangers’ biggest threat came in the top of the eighth, with the old war horse Yusmeiro Petit on the mound for the Green and Gold. He merged bloody but unbowed, and, most important, unscored upon.
Petit began the inning by striking out Joey Gallo, which is not as easy to do these days as it was a couple of years ago. Then a trio of well-sprayed singles, to left, center, and right by Frazier, Solak, and Kiner-Falefa, respectively, loaded the bases with one out. Tejada, fresh from his single and homer (both to right) popped out on an infield fly to Semien. Then Robinson Chirinos pinch hit for Jeff Mathis. Petit came up big and struck him out on three pitches, all of them cut fast balls.
All that was left was for Liam Hendricks to keep the Rangers at bay for one more inning. He started inauspiciously at the top of bating order, allowing a single to right center by Choo. But he struck out Elvis Andrus on four pitches, three 95 mph four seamers in a row, followed an 87 mph slider.
Then Willie Calhoun hit a scorching line drive between first and second. It was fortunate for the A’s that they were playing in a shift and the ball came straight to Semien, who caught it and threw to first to double off Chou and end the game.
The win, not a pretty one, but a win nonetheless, went to Fiers; the save, his fourth, to Petit. Once again, the Athletics’ bullpen put it all together. It would be nice if you could a recognition joint wins; holds and saves just don’t cut it, especially in a season like this. Minor took the loss. He’s now 0-3 with an ERA of 6.89.
Before the game, the A’s announced that they had optioned Seth Brown and James Kaprielian to their alternate site in San José.
As I write this, Oakland has a two game lead over the Astros in the AL West, but Houston is ahead of the Diamondback 4-3 in the top of the eighth.
Speaking of the Astros, they come to Oakland for a three game series starting tomorrow. Zack Greinke (0-0, 5.00) is scheduled to pitch for the Garbage Can Bangers; Chris Basitt (1-0,0.93) for the Hometown Heroes.